Consumer Electronics Show: Verizon's 4G event -- heavy on sound and fury, light on dates and prices
In a conference room bathed in red light and featuring a giant UFO-like lighting panel hanging from the ceiling, bass-heavy music blared Thursday afternoon at the Consumer Electronics Show. A quickfire movie played across the huge convex screen onstage and a trio of Verizon Wireless executives bounded purposefully onstage.
It was Chief Executive Dan Mead, chief technology officer Tony Melone, and chief marketing officer Marni Walden come to herald the arrival of "4G LTE," the company's initiative to boost customers' smart phone speeds into outer space.
With substantial and rather high-budget pomp and circumstance, Verizon showed off 10 or so new devices that would work on the network, including Android-based tablet computers and smart phones from Samsung, Motorola and HTC.
But the presentation was short on demonstration. The chief executives from the above-mentioned Asian manufacturing firms came briefly out to hold up the yet-unreleased phones and tablets, but the devices themselves were not shown in action, leaving the audience to guess what was special about them.
Nor were launch dates for the new devices offered, save to say they'd all be available by mid-2011. One of them, the Samsung phone, didn't even have a name yet. Verizon did not say whether it would allow users to "tether" their phones' Internet connections to their computers. And though 10 devices were displayed, no price was offered for any.
(Generally smart phone users have to pay a monthly fee in addition to the cost of the device.)
Verizon, Mead told the audience, was going as fast as it could to build its next-generation cellular network, which will allow smart phone, tablet and laptop users to get hyper-fast Internet speeds over the air. Verizon has only 38 cities covered in 4G now, but by the end of the year, it says, it'll be up to 178. Verizon has said that its 4G network won't match the footprint of its 3G network until 2013.
The company's announcements came right on the heels of rival T-Mobile's press event, where the Bellveue, Wash.-based carrier showed off new tablets from Dell and LG and made sweeping claims that its 4G network was the largest and fastest in the U.S.'s top 100 markets.
"We're at a moment in time where the wheels are just leaving the ground with this," Verizon's Mead said. "And we're taking off to a future of superfast wireless networks."
-- David Sarno
Photos, from top: Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead; upcoming 4G phones from Verizon including an unnamed Samsung, Motorola's Droid Bionic and HTC's Thunderbird. Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times